Is Bourbon Broken? Part 4 – A Final Argument Header

Is Bourbon Broken? Part 4 – A Final Argument

In Banter by Brent Joseph26 Comments

Welcome to Part 4 of our 4-part series exploring the question, "Is Bourbon Broken?". Make sure you read Part 1 – The Consumer Problem, Part 2 – The Secondary Problem and Part 3 – The Distribution & Retail Problem before proceeding with Part 4, as the posts are meant to be read in sequential order. 

A Final Argument

I think that one final argument that can be made as to why bourbon is broken, is that consumers keep paying ridiculous prices at retail stores for bottles of extremely young or sourced bourbon from a myriad of new brands. You can’t honestly tell me that you are thrilled when you see a new brand announced and their MSRP is over $150. Come on people, 13 year old sourced juice in cool bottle designed by a former shoe company executive is what you just have to have? Really?

You mean to tell me that the new local distillery that is selling their two year old juice for $50+ is better than the tried and true big brands that are sitting on the shelves of your local retailers for half the price? No way. I’m all about supporting local, but the product needs to be good for me to want to drink it, let alone buy it again. But people are apparently buying the stuff and contributing to the insane pricing practices that drive up the entire industry. I know it’s expensive to source your juice from MGP, have it bottled, and get it to market via your distributor. But there is no way you can honestly tell me that local brand X is double the price better than options like Elijah Craig, Old Grand Dad, Maker’s Mark, or Buffalo Trace. Hell, you can even get 10 year old Russel’s Reserve for $30-$40.

Bourbon Flavor Wheel & Tasting Mats

(Makes the perfect last minute holiday gift. Click, purchase & download.)
Image
But some of you continue to pay double for stuff that is just not good. Until we stop chasing things like 7-year-old sourced finished rye for $180, I’m worried that nothing will change and this thing we love will stay broken. This is where the bourbon community has the most power, just because it’s new on the shelf, doesn’t mean it is good or worth the price they are charging. We can all do our part to help fix this. If customers don’t buy overpriced product, the product either goes away or the pricing comes back to reality. In the end, you should buy what you like to drink.
"But some of you continue to pay double for stuff that is just not good."
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you feel the same? How can we fix it? Am I totally wrong and this is the best time ever to be a bourbon fan? Do you have any other thoughts or problems that I’ve missed?

Thank you for exploring my 4 part series and allowing me to share my opinions on the topic of whether or not bourbon is broken. I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sr. Contributor |

Brent was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism, he moved back to Indy where he eventually resurrected his family's brand of all beef kosher style hot dogs and opened a restaurant, King David Dogs, in downtown Indianapolis. When he's not juggling the many duties of an entrepreneur, he can usually be found relaxing at home with his wife, their twin boys, and their two dogs. Brent is a member of the Bourbon Society of Indianapolis, a BBQ enthusiast, and a cigar aficionado. Three things that are even better when enjoyed together with good friends. If Brent is not talking about bourbon, he's probably talking about sports, in particular, NFL football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball. You can follow his blog, BBQ and Bourbon here.
Read Brent's full profile.

About the Author
Avatar

Brent Joseph

Twitter

Brent was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism, he moved back to Indy where he eventually resurrected his family's brand of all beef kosher style hot dogs and opened a restaurant, King David Dogs, in downtown Indianapolis. When he's not juggling the many duties of an entrepreneur, he can usually be found relaxing at home with his wife, their twin boys, and their two dogs. Brent is a member of the Bourbon Society of Indianapolis, a BBQ enthusiast, and a cigar aficionado. Three things that are even better when enjoyed together with good friends. If Brent is not talking about bourbon, he's probably talking about sports, in particular, NFL football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball. You can follow his blog, BBQ and Bourbon here. Read Brent's full profile.

  • Avatar randy says:

    Really enjoyed this series, read all 4 just now. I’m old-ish (57), but only started drinking bourbon last year (my 2020 New Year’s resolution). I’m looking at my 10 bottle “shelf” as I type this – all opened and enjoyed. I haven’t paid more than $50 for any of them (my wonderful GF did splurge on a Blanton’s and Glenmorangie as gifts). I can’t really describe the tastes very well, but I know that some taste better than others. And I’m glad that I do enjoy most of what’s in my price range! I could afford a lot more, but if I can’t really describe the differences, why should I bother. Though I’m thinking about a $60 bottle of OF1910 or OF1920 based on good reviews.
    As far as online “communities”, I’ve been quite surprised and happy with the bourbon/scotch/whiskey “sub-reddits” on Reddit. People there really seem to be in agreement with the quality of a lot of the cheaper whiskeys and do much bottle chasing. (I’ve never been on FB).
    Random thoughts on Friday – sometimes I really shouldn’t sit facing my bourbon shelf…

  • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

    Randy,
    Thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed the series. The 1920 is a favorite of mine. Also, just keep trying new things. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s good and just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it is bad.

    • Avatar Scott Miller says:

      ” just keep trying new things” – Yep. That’s my philosophy too. Reading a trusted review and assessing the flavor profiles – the reasonable ones of course, not this “the nose was dirty leather gloves followed by worn pencil eraser – WTF? Plus finding a good bar to try before you buy helps too.

  • Avatar Rusty Dodd says:

    Enjoyed the series and pretty much agree with it all. The final point was the one that really gets me, all these two year old bourbons going for $60+ in Virginia- no thanks. The ABC stores have plenty that I enjoy for much less.

  • Avatar Steve says:

    Totally agree about unnecessarily overpriced products from any distillery, craft or behemoth. Too many craft distillers argue that their young sprits are worth $75 and up per bottle because that’s what they need to charge to achieve even a modest profit. How anybody gets the feels over that person’s plight and ponies up the dough for mediocre booze is beyond me. If your business model includes selling immature spirits at prices more than double those charged by your legacy competitors, your model is the problem, not people like me who won’t pay for it. If you can’t get into the spirit business and A. source good product until you have aged your own, or B. make your own and wait until it’s mature, then maybe that’s not the business for you. No amount of, “I want to support local businesses” will motivate me to buy a crummy product. And while we’re at it, I love craft spirits from Laws Whiskey House, The Spirits of French Lick, Ragged Branch and Frey Ranch–all places that make their own.

  • Avatar John says:

    Makes me wonder if all those nice people who pay top dollar for less are actually helping. If they spent $150 on 1920 that would be 2 1/2 bottles less for you and me.

  • Avatar Dan Zam says:

    Brent, enjoyed your series. Education is the answer, as with many things. In our capitalist economy it’s “whatever the market will bare,” I’m afraid (and the Bourbon – or alcohol — market is different in different states, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!). There are a lot of foolish folks out there, or ones with oodles of disposable income, who buy sh-t all the time, and we all know, the “marketing” component in the industry is HUGE. Marketing, marketing, marketing. So much BS. Smart folks avoid the hype and BS (e.g., about “origin” or “homage” stories), and it’s incumbent upon those folks (like you, and me (LOL) to teach others, unless of course, they want to throw their money away, so to speak.
    It’s the worst time to be a Bourbon fan. I’m 70, been a fan for 30 years at least (and I’m not a Scotch drinker). Starting collecting a bit, 10-12 years ago, when a client gave me a bottle of PVW 20 in lieu of a fee ($90 retail, at the time). I’ve never paid more than $100 for any bottle, even a 1.75 ltr. You’re correct, of course, that there’s good Bourbon out there that is still reasonably priced. And I drink it, and don’t sell it on the secondary market. When the first college tuition bill hit, I said to my wife, “I should sell the 2 bottles of PVW 20 I have, as they going for $1000 dollars on Craig’s List.” She said, “No, we’ll get by. Drink it.” As you can see, I married up (she’s a oenophile, and she has some Bordeaux’s worth thousands from the ’80s she has collected — her dowry (LOL), so she’s into enjoying, not flipping). I still have the PVW, and she and I had a dram or 2 on my 70th birthday. It’s very, very good, but not $1000,, or $2000 (the price at my local (Manhattan) liquor store), good. The way to fix part of the “system” is to eliminate flipping, but that’s impractical or impossible in our capitalist economy. So forget about that dream.

  • Avatar Tim C says:

    Great series. Agree completely. I stopped buying “new” Bourbons about a year ago. Nothing but good old ‘bottled in bond’ for me. And Maker’s. Always have Makers on hand.

  • Avatar Bruce Keene says:

    I think you are absolutely right. I, like you buy a lot of bourbon, but refuse to pay much if anything over msrp. And most of my 60+ bottles are open. I also live in your area, Zionsville. I enjoyed your articles and you perspective.

  • Avatar MATT FRANDSEN says:

    Hi, Thanks for writing the series. I agree with your points in each part. I especially agree with the point in part 4 (Kentucky Owl Confiscated–I’m talking to you!). I’m back to drinking Elijah Craig (even without the age statement) because it’s consistently good and the price has remained in the reasonable range. I’m looking forward to when bourbon is no longer a fad and we can get back to reasonable prices for all offerings.

  • Avatar Fred Honeyager says:

    I for one will never pay those prices for a Local 2 year old Bourbon, I am all for supporting Local but not at those prices for me the quality has to be there and there are just to many excellent Bourbons available from the big guys in the $25.00 to $40.00 range to pay that for a 2 year old. I will stay with my Wild Turkey 101 or some of the different Brands available from Evan William’s that I thoroughly enjoy. I do not buy anything on the Secondary Market either just not worth it to me,but as long as this continues Bourbon will stay Broken.

  • Avatar Mark says:

    Good stuff especially part 4. My everyday go to is Elijah Craig ($30) and any bottle I buy for a second time has to better and/or worth the cost. I am also big on locally sourced products
    but I cannot spend $50 for a bottle just because it’s manufactured in town. I am not a connoisseur to the point I can identify notes burnt toast and elderberries, but I know what I enjoy and I might occasionally pay $75 for a bottle, if it stands up to my Elijah Craig test!
    Good stuff thanks!

  • Avatar Tom D says:

    I totally agree, I was told by one of my liquor distributor friends that there is so much quality bourbon in the $20-$40 range that there is no need to buy one bottle at $200 when you can get 3-4 bottles for that same price and quality. I’ll try a new guy if it’s within my $30-$40 range but never higher than that price as there are too many established bourbons and whiskeys that I prefer. My go to lately is Four Rose small batch if that says anything.
    Good Article!, well said.

  • Avatar Bob Farrace says:

    Get outta my head, Brent. Your assessment is spot on and captures what so many of us feel. As a bourbon aficionado and a communications pro by trade, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how we can change the frame of what it means to be a “bourbon guy” (or girl). For too many people, it means chasing the unicorns–perpetuating the problems you described so well. And I’ll admit that I was among them early in my journey, though there were far fewer and far less expensive unicorns to chase back then. We need to somehow flip the script so that being a bourbon guy is equivalent to being a smart consumer.

    One tactic I’m planning: I’m building a bourbon flight and tasting session for friends all with bourbons available at VA ABC for under $35. Education has to start in my own backyard. Additionally, though I totally get why you stay off the bourbon groups, I use them as an opportunity to redirect questions like, “Should I buy that Blanton’s I saw for $150?” Of course you shouldn’t. It’s barely a good price for 3 Blanton’s. Why do you want it? If it’s the taste, try EWSB or Michter’s or Bowman Bros. here in VA, which is the same damn juice. If you’re drawn by the scarcity, consider what it says about you that you’re willing to overpay for a product to which you have no real connection. It’ll be a slow, thankless process. But series like this help to move the chains.

  • Avatar Nite Al says:

    Hey – loved the series and the previous comments above are rite on! My line is $50, but I enjoy the hunt without being obsessive. Too much good bourbon that is easily found to sweat the expensive unicorns.

    I’m in NC and just got back from KY. Went to Makers and Lux Row this trip. Main thing I brought back tho are cheaper BIB’s (under $20) from the Barn in Lexington that we can’t get here. Looking forward to trying those too.

    My recent splurge bourbons are store selections. I found a store in SC, just outside of Charlotte that does a lot of SiB store picks and sells for around $60 and they are a treat!!

    Again, my thanks for writing down what felt like was in my head.

    Al

  • Avatar Dan says:

    In sort, no, bourbon isn’t broken. I was once walking down a street in Chicago and there was this massive line outside and around to corner of people wanting to get into a shoe store to get the latest Nike shoes. People were walking out with multiple pairs. Now, if you’re really into Jordans and wanted to get the latest model, that might be a bummer if you weren’t able to get in line and then see the same shoes sold in the secondary market for a large markup, but it doesn’t mean that “shoes are broken.” It just means there’s a mania about certain shoes that are fashionable, and as such supple doesn’t come close to meeting demand (artificially or not). I can still be bad at basketball in many, many readily available shoes.

    Similarly, the bourbon situation is only a problem if one is sad about not being about to get the fashionable bottles for which there is more demand than supple. There’s nothing wrong with wanting those bottles! I miss having Eagle Rare readily available for $25 or $30. But so long as there are many quality options readily available (which there are), then nothing is broken, it’s just a bummer that we have to live with one way or another.

    • Avatar Ryan says:

      Spot on, Dan. All this “remember when” mentality reminds me of people who complain when a band blows up. “Man I was listening to them when they played he Vogue, now everyone likes them.”

      Really well written and I get your points, Brent, but this is nearly
      American capitalism at its finest. I get it sucks because you were in to it before the hysteria. If all the sudden hot dogs become the next American fad and you guys have a line out the door and charge $15 a dog, I will applaud you and cheer you on.

  • Avatar Rich Cannon in Wisconsin says:

    Agree totally. I have local store that I helped support when it opened 2 years ago. Spread the word to my friends. Purchased the under the counter ER’s. But then that all stopped when the local rep said, why don’t you setup a lottery. Customer buys a whiskey, pays and signs the receipt with phone number, drops into huge glass bowl. You had to buy a whiskey in order to have opportunity. If name is drawn, you have the opportunity to “purchase” said bottle. After a few drawings I won, the opportunity to purchase a Michter’s 10Yr. Rye. Bought at msrp. I became part of the problem. But then things changed for me. After purchasing more whiskey, and entering again and again, I won the right to purchase a Belle Meade Cask Strength. I didn’t want that, but was not given an option for something else. They had Col. EHT SiB and BP, Old Fitz BIB, WLWeller, and others, but those were ear marked for the next drawings. MY LIGHT BULB FINALLY WENT ON. Since day back in October, I have not been back into the store, and guess what…..I’ve never been called again!! So, I travel to other stores, some a number of miles away, in the process of establishing relationships. THANK YOU FOR THIS FANTASTIC ARTICLE!!

  • Avatar Ryan M says:

    I’d love an app that identified MGP juice. I love MGP but I’m going think differently on weather to buy a bottle if i know that it was sourced from MGP.
    P.S. Loved the 4 part series. I believe until the distributes start punishing retailers for their price gouging, the system will remain broken.

  • Avatar Thomas Muller says:

    Excellent read! couldn’t have said it better myself! I’m afraid to say this but as long as there are people out there with deep pockets I think this will continue! I’ve never paid secondary price and I’ve never waited in line!I like the hunt so if it’s there when I’m there then so be it, I’ll buy it if it’s what I’m looking for and share it with my friends and tell the story if there’s one to be told!if it’s not within MSRP then go to my regulars and at times they are hard to find anymore!(Knob Creek single barrel reserve 9 year 120 proof,Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel,JDSBBP) hopefully someday it’ll just be the whiskey drinkers buying this shit and enjoying it!,until then I guess we just gotta put on our big boy underwear and drive on!